Charlie Blair introduces us to another Eurostar…
The second of my interviews with the new players joining the Eurostars tour this year was with Latvia’s Lasma Kublicka. And oh my days, what a pleasure it was! Anyone who has the fortune to chat with Lasma will have a spring in their step for the rest of the day because this lady’s enthusiasm is utterly infectious. Huddled in an echoey corridor as she takes half an hour to slip away from her office desk, we discuss her Ultimate journey and utter shock at being selected for the Eurostars roster.
Even though I’ve yet to have a chat with the rest of the squad, I’m already doubtful I will find a member of the team more excited to be part of this summer’s tour than Lasma. She explains that she only made the application on the day of the deadline, with only five hours left to put together her case for a place on the team. It was all thanks to Estonian frisbee player and friend of 15 years, Kristjan Loorits, who messaged her on Facebook with the link telling her simply “if you’re interested then send your application and see what happens.” While Lasma may have been completely shocked at her making the roster, it seems all those around her were not. After seeing the success of the Russian national team last year at WCBU and also Alisa Tizik making the Eurostars team, many of her teammates where asking why she wasn’t there too.
Indeed, at one point it had been a dream of hers to play in the USA but Lasma resolved early on that in would never happen because she didn’t end up going to study out there. Now thanks to Eurostars she states: “[my] dream of 10 years ago, happens now. I’m super proud, sometimes I can’t believe it”. The thought of being hosted by and having the opportunity to befriend the best American teams this summer leaves her literally speechless with glee.
I smile warmly as she tells me this, because it’s becoming clear to me that the realisation of this dream is a result of a deep rooted and genuine passion for Ultimate. When I asked why she thinks she was picked for Eurostars, without hesitation she outbursts: “I think because I’m crazy about Ultimate, everybody knows I’m crazy about it, every weekend i go to tournaments in Latvia, Russia. I drive all the night to go to work because i don’t have the extra vacation days … most of life is frisbee, my team,my club, second my family; I spend so much time at work and so much time at practice”.
Talking of family, it was in fact her mum – Valda Kublicka, a middle school PE teacher, that first introduced Lasma to the game. She in turn, had discovered the game thanks to Swede and fellow teacher, Paul Eriksson, who introduced Ultimate to Latvia. Despite the fact that because of her age Valda never attempted to play, she immediately fell in love with the sport. Having initially established a boys team in her local town of Salaspils, just 18km from Riga, Mama Kublicka brought 12 year old Lasma along to watch a tournament where she too became enamoured with the game. Already a keen dancer, basketballer, sprinter and long jumper, Lasma then focused her athleticism on Ultimate. With such an arsenal of skills, it’s no wonder that only nine months later she was representing at the European Championships in Tallinn.
From here on in, there was no tournament that Mama Kublicka was not attentively following her daughter’s progress in. “She is a big fan of me”, Lasma explains. “Every tournament I go to, I get her a tournament present because I know she is following on the computer at home. And writing to me. If I don’t answer, she writes to my team mates ‘How are you doing? Who are you playing? Why doesn’t Lasma answer?’ My mum is crazy.”
No surprise then, that Lasma is a player who has reached the top her game purely through her love of the game. She admits that gym work is not something she readily focuses on, just hours upon hours of play for the last thirteen years with tournaments almost every weekend. As such, you could say Lasma has followed a less common route to glory when compared to other top players. She’s not been sizing up the next best team she wants to play with like players in countries with a more mature infrastructure, with clearly defined milestones and a greater player base than Latvia’s. In fact, Lasma recognises that exactly because she is the bar, that is what drives her to be better.
“In Latvia I am like the idol and everyone wants to be like me. That’s why I don’t stop practicing because the expectation is really high. For the last three years, I’ve been helping my club’s young players, not coaching because I’m not at every practice but saying ‘13 years [ago] I was like you just practicing, don’t stop, you can do it! And if you don’t understand something just ask, I can help you.”
While Lasma’s play alone has made her a role model for many years now, since becoming part of the Eurostars tour she now has an even further reaching impact. One that is stimulating new discussions in Latvia regarding the community’s attitude to women in Ultimate:
“In Latvia, it was not so popular, but now that I am going [to America] people are interested in equity. In Latvia [gender equity] is not a typical problem on the field; we play and train together. But every time we go to tournaments, it is open first, they go to Europeans, Worlds, they have a coach. Sometimes the girls are frustrated”.
She explains that despite the success of the Salaspils mixed team, who recently only just missed out on victory in this year’s Windmill final, they never had any intentions of becoming a permanent outfit setting their sights on major international competitions. As a result of Salaspils having not attended WUCC in any division this year she is devoting all of her summer preparing for Eurostars. They are really a club of two teams – women and open. Both also have junior teams but the women in particular struggle with developing their girls:
“They are a little shy – only three players want to go outside of Latvia, they are typically afraid – they need to go and try and get the stress. I hope the number of girls will increase, at this time junior boys are more, and our club is really trying to help. My mum is trying to encourage a bigger practice – we are paying more [club fees] than we should because we want junior players to get to practice.”
Hopefully Lasma’s achievement’s with the Eurostars will capture the imagination of Latvia’s girls and will inspire this cultural shift that is needed to bolster both the number of female players and more importantly, their ambitions. Because thus far, Lasma has more or less been standing alone.
“I need to show Latvian women that we are little country but we are a passionate country and we can do a lot.”
And so what can we hope to expect from Lasma on the tour this year?
So often she has been the stalwart for her national team, and has had to rise to the occasion as part of a less experienced squad. Most notably in the finals of Hello Stockholm in 2013 where she brought home the victory for Latvia over the Swedish team “Valkyria”. After conceding a Callahan and dropping the pull, they still managed to win 13:8.
“I really have that reading of the field, like defence. Many players say I have eyes in the back of my head. I don’t know but I’m not looking at the player and watching the disc and somehow I control the defence. I don’t know how but I can catch such hard passes, low and high, sometimes it’s surprising me!”
Such ferocious and instinctive defensive plays alongside the huge expectations she sets on herself will make her an asset to the squad this year, boasting stats that all the best players in world still chase: “Almost every time I catch the pass, if I drop it’s like, what?! I drop like two times per year!”
The high level of discipline that she admires so much in the Russian game has clearly rubbed off on Lasma, who recalls it was a big step up for her when the Cosmic Girls invited her to play with them in September 2017. She notes how hard they train, and the resilience they have shown time and time again to come back from behind and win finals. She also learned a lot of different styles from them and particularly enjoys the quicker tempo they play at.
“They are a little bit closer and faster, they fake more with the disc, they defend more aggressively and close but without contact. In Latvia we are slower with the disc, you watch and choose the best spots but in Russia you get the disc and if there is not the right cut in the first three seconds the handler gets it back – the work rate is really high.”
And it’s this style of play falls right into Lamsa’s strengths because she just loves the game so very much. She really could chase disc all day.
“In Latvia / Baltics everybody knows me growing from a little, quiet girl to crazy, layout girl on defence! Sometimes I don’t know where I get the energy to play and play and play, sometimes I’m super tired but when I go to practice I always find my maximum”.
But despite her long playing career, the 28 year old recalls that it was only last year at WBUC in Royan that she felt part of a strong Latvian squad where she could really fulfil her potential, recalling how surprised she was to have played eight games in two days and still have the energy for more.
While she is still getting familiar with many of her Eurostar teammates through unashamed Facebook stalking, she knows that if any squad is going to bring the best out of her, it’s going to be this one: “every time I have some connection with the Eurostar tour its so warming and gets me so excited. I don’t know how some of the girls on tour with children do it – I don’t how they manage all! It will be super interesting to talk and know them deeper and ask them how they manage all that stuff. I cant wait to meet them all!”.
So. I know it. You know it. Lasma knows it. In a squad stacked with some of the most experienced, athletic and intelligent of her European peers, Lasma is sure to be elevated to new heights. And the results are sure to be spectacular. Watch out ‘Murica.